Away.

It is still summer and glittering.  Jewels hunt amongst the rose petals and the perfume of heat is strong.

But the night is cooler and the dawn later. The bats are coming into roost over the apple trees when I have to leave for work, their tantalising trails of clicks and whirls are caught by the bat box and then forgotten in the blur of noise and traffic and faces and faces and faces that fill the working day.

And take me away.

 

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Living in the Modern world.

This swallow was nesting above the cutlery shelf in a busy English beer garden. Drinkers clattered by collecting knives and forks, ketchup and vinegar and bar staff plonked down ploughmans’ lunches, Sunday roasts and Branston pickle sandwiches on their way to tables ringed by hungry drinkers.  The swallow ignored them all  and safe between the electrical wires and heating ducts brought butterflies and bugs back to its brood of hatchlings .

I have put up artificial, purpose made nests for swallows and house martins all round my house, just above my garden which is heaving with insect banquets and the birds have spurned them all. I have laughed at the improbability of my neighbour ever populating his huge new house martin monster hotel as he insists on constantly shaving the grass beneath with noisiest  lawn mower known to creation. However, it seems I have been totally wrong about what these birds want, as this picture proves. To attract swallows to nest in harmony give them chatter, clatter, the smell of cooking and the fumes of plenty of good bitter beer!

Low thunder.

Summer rain, washing away the dust: cleaning and cooling the clouds and leaving grey sheets of warm perfumed air in its wake.

Butterflies shelter in the vine dry against the house wall.

The lavender is curved down by the wet weight of its own heavy loveliness .

Pale hollyhocks cup bees circling the stiff stigmas untroubled by the slanting rain.

The cat leaves off hunting sparrows sheltering on the bird table, in order to cringe from the low thunder.

Now it is glittering sunshine, now black towering clouds, now the suffocating perfume of budliea breathing through the saturated air.

Will there ever be a day like this again?

Africa shows the way.

The world seems swamped with depressing news these days and then you see this. We have to have hope for our  beautiful planet, what ever the news.

Ethiopia has closed government offices to ensure everybody plants trees. Let’s follow Africa and hope each seedling grows! 🌱🌳🌳🌱

https://pmo.gov.et/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/29/ethiopia-plants-250m-trees-in-a-day-to-help-tackle-climate-crisis?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

 

Hogs need holes

I was telling my neighbour about the hedgehogs is the garden and she told me how amazed she was to see them in her garden too. There is no surprize in this as a hedgehog roams about two kilometres a day. The problem is that so many gardens are so securely fenced off from each other that hedgehog cannot move from one to another. Small gaps between fences panels or holes under lines of wire fences are all that is needed for a prickly hog to squeeze safely through and to find enough to eat each night.

Humans are obsessed with tidiness. We like straight lines and we fill the gaps in with unyielding concrete in the name of tidiness. We strim down the rough patches and we mow the grass within an  inch of its life. Tidy gardens have very little wildlife and are such a waste of wonderful spaces!

Putting hedgehog path ways through new and old fences is a wonderful way of cooperating with your community, getting to know the neighbours and helping one of the most irresistible mammals I know.

This link to the wildlife trusts of the UK shows you how to do it.

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-create-hedgehog-hole

A Prickly customer.

We spotted a large hedgehog out in the afternoon sun in our garden yesterday. She seemed in good health and unafraid. Something seemed to be sticking out of her mouth, but it was very hard to get a good look when she hid by a wall.

My husband thought it was a little bird foot, but this seemed ridiculous. We left her in peace and she trundled off into the bushes. On the lawn was a half eaten young sparrow, which one of our cats had caught from the bird table and then eaten the breast in typical faddy cat fashion. The bird was also missing its feet.

A check of the guidebook confirms that cute hedgehogs will eat carrion and like nestlings that fall out of the nest.

We make bread; the crusts go every day to the sparrow; the sparrows make a lot of babies; the cats catch some young sparrows; the hedgehog eats the left overs and makes more hedgehogs.  Nature is never wasteful and never soppy!

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New w/balls please!

The future for the environment can look bleak, but every day there are signs that people are waking up and maybe things can get better. Sport does little for me personally, but this article on the living green walls at the home of tennis, made me really smile. Every dull concrete wall in every polluted, depressing city in the world will look like this one day .  Bring on a green living future!!

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/tennis-players-find-tranquility-in-wimbledons-living-walls?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

How to moth trap.

This post is for those who would like to trap moths and discover what is flying at night when they are safe in bed. If moths give you the heebie-jeebies then skip this post!

I am sure there are other ways of doing it, with other equipment, but I am just sharing my own experience for those who are curious.

I have been trapping for about 12 years on a regular basis.  I had been out with other naturalists many years ago in Wales, but it wasn’t until my husband bought me a trap for a present that I started in earnest.

 

First thing you need is a moth trap.   

https://www.watdon.co.uk/   Watkins and Doncaster provided Charles Darwin with his equipment.  They send across the world and they know what they are doing.  I recommend their basic plastic bucket trap to start with and two bulbs (in case you smash one!).

All a trap is, is a UV light bulb which attracts the moths, above a plastic funnel.  The moths then fall down into the bucket below, where they perch on cardboard egg boxes in safety for the night.

The next morning you switch off the light, open the trap gently and carefully remove each egg box one by one. You then photograph the moths (in case they fly off!) and then try to identify them using a good guide book.

I use British Moths by Chris Manley published by Bloomsbury.  I have not found a similar single volume guide for France.  I am certain there are excellent guides for where you live.  There are also some excellent free on line identification sites.  I use https://ukmoths.org.uk/systematic-list/ and also http://montgomeryshiremoths.org.uk/ which is very good for showing what is around at the right time of year.

You make a note of the weather and date and keep a list of what you find in English and or Latin.  I tick off all the species that I have confidently identified in my guide book, so that I can find them again more easily.  I later send my list and photos to my local naturalist organisation, https://faune-alsace.org  so that my records can be compared with others, but you can skip this bit!

That is the bare bones and I am aware that it sounds unutterably dull and nerdy.  The reason for doing it is because you get to see the most wonderful creatures with your own eyes, while drinking a cup of tea on the back step of your own home and that takes some beating as a wildlife experience.  I have been lucky enough to live in Zambia and to spend months on safari, I have lived in Costa Rica for four years and in Brazil for two and spent as much time as possible in the forests, rivers and oceans, seeing wildlife that most people only see on David Attenborough tv programmes and yet I have never enjoyed wildlife in such comfort, or been so amazed on a daily basis as I have been when moth trapping in my own back garden!

 

Tips.

  1.  It takes a long time to learn the common moths that you will encounter on your patch.  It has taken me 10 years to be confident with the common moths and even then I make mistakes.  There are a lots of moths and many of them look the same!!!

2. Start by identifying the ones with clear colours or markings.  Leave the dull ones until much later.  There is no shame in being confused.  If the guide book says the moth that you have spent hours identifying is very rare in your area, then you probably have made a mistake.

3. Keep your moths cool.  If it is warm and the trap has been left in the sun before you open it, then they will all fly away before you identify them.  Move your trap into the coolest shade you can and let them settle before taking out the boxes.  If you do this, you do not need to put them in collecting jars to look at.  They will sit happily on the egg box while you admire them.

4. Take a photo on your phone or camera, so you can look back at them and identify them when you have time.  This final phase often requires a glass of chilled wine and a sofa!

5. Let the moths fly off when they want to, or shake onto a bush.  My cats used to try to eat them, but now treat them with feline disdain.

 

Enjoy!!

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1. UV light and plastic funnel.

2. Box containing old egg boxes and electrical connection.

3. Lead to mains or to a big battery if you want to set up the trap in a remote place.

4. Identification guide.

 

Gifts of the night.

It has been painfully hot here. My garden has had to fend for itself, as going out in the sunshine has been impossible.  Luckily we are on holiday and can sleep the heat of the day away and get up before dawn, open up the house and let in a breath of cool air.

My moth trap has been on almost every night and a wonderful range of visitors has appeared to be sorted over in the pearly morning light before the sun races up over the hedge.

I have been trapping for more than 10 years now and I never cease to be amazed by the diversity and beauty of the moths that I find and how they vary with the seasons.   I have identified more than 160 species of moths just in my back garden over the years and 67 species this year so far. Every time I open the trap there is a possibility  that I will find a moth that is a  totally new record for me and that is a real thrill. I send all my records into my local wildlife society on line and it surprising how under recorded French papillon du nuit (butterflies of the night) are.

The photo at the top is a lovely large emerald that fluttered out of the  trap onto the lawn.

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And this beast is a privet hawk moth.

As they say in the film credits “no animal was hurt in the making of this blog” and all these gifts of the night fly away after identification.

Who knows who will arrive tonight?

Smelling of Roses.

How inadequate language is!

Scent, smell, perfume ignites memory like nothing else, they are far more powerful than sounds or even vision; we might think in pictures, but we feel and remember in smells.  And when we try to evoke this experience in language , how we fail!

How to describe the sickly smell of sweet chestnut in flower; the wedding yearning of mock orange blossom; the catch in the throat of lilac after rain and the elusive, unexpected sherbet of iris flowers without the use of simile and history?

Privet flowers are the smell of long summer afternoon in quiet suburbs, elderflowers are the back seat of Dad’s car as we drove down long hedge rows to collect saucers of white flowers that would be turned into explosive summer wine. This petunia has a bubblegum smell that reminds me of the Brazilian friend who gave me a pot plant to thank me for cooking dinner. The little plant perfumed the garden table for the whole summer many years ago.

I can share a picture of a scented petunia with you, but not the perfume. Your mind will have to imagine  what my words stumble to evoke, or maybe you can just step outside to smell the real roses and they will create their own story and memory of time and place for you.

Looks what happens when you don’t mow!

 

Short grass is an obsession with so many people. Close mown grass of uniform dullness is the holy grail for some; every “weed” poisoned and not an insect in sight makes some people happy. I, on the other hand, try my best to show how wonderful a long lawn can be and how much wildlife it can support. The dull lawners are rarely impressed until you mention the magic word : Orchid!

At work, a beautiful pyramid orchid managed to appear in the brief window between ritual grass cuttings. I happened to spot it and the mower had to spare a tiny patch of grass so the children could come out and photograph it on their phones. You can see them reflected in the glass window capturing something to share on line for a moment. It wasn’t like the tropical orchids on sale in the supermarket, it was small and vulnerable and they were almost impressed .

The butterfly orchid was in the meadow and the parasitic broomrape was on the edge of the maize field, so I thought I would share them with you like the kids do on social media, in the hope that a love for the wild things that grow when you dont mow, will stir in us all!

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Alice Oswald

It was with real delight I read that Alice Oswald has been made the professor of poetry at Oxford University. I thought I was the only person to have fallen in love with her bell clear, thumb nail sharp slice into the green heart; but it turns out I was wonderfully wrong and she is recognised at the highest levels.

This you tube clip shows her reading from “Falling Awake” . Skip the first minute of pomposity and listen to her from 1.55. The heart needs Alice Oswald.

 

 

Marvel of the Day.

I love the names of moths: heart and dart;   setaceous hebrew character; cloth of gold; delicate; uncertain; scalloped beauty; ruby tiger and so many more.

This year has been cooler and wetter than previous years, and though I infinitely prefer it, the moths have been late appearing and many nights have been too rainy to capture anything. However, last night was a wonderful night of mothing and I found twenty different species waiting amongst the egg boxes under the UV light.

My favourite name is a French one, used by English speakers the merveille du jour – the marvel of the day, coined by a French observer for the marvellous and unexpected new moth found that night. My merveille  du jour today was a beautiful lace border, which was luminously white and delicate and perfectly named.

I was particularly surprised to see it, as it is moth of limestone meadow and although we live on limestone, most of the moths I see are woodland species. Then I remembered that I have allowed my front drive to grow over and it is now covered in wild marjoram and scree flowers, and maybe after enough years of careful neglect, I have made just the right home for this beautiful and elusive moth in my own garden – a real  merveille  du jour!

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Rose Bower

I have always wanted a rose bower.

The very word bower sounds secret and enclosing.

I have trained  roses up wrought iron arches with varying degrees of success, but our wild dog rose has produced the longest, most exuberant arms of flowers to wrap around the old wheel barrow and make marvellous the compost corner.

Its simple pink blossoms are transient, perfumed and perfect. No dog ever wagged so      wonderfully!

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What a difference a month makes!

Can there be a bigger seasonal change than that between spiteful late winter and full blown, sleeping with the windows open,  hot summer?

4th of May was snow. I ran around the garden knocking it off full leaved willows and birches bowed down to the ground with the weight of it. As the first sprinkle of snow in the photo became a blizzard I closed the blind, unable to bear the sight of my my newly flourishing garden disappearing under the ever thickening blanket.

It lay thick for a night, but the next day it was gone like a bad dream and this 4th June it is 33 degrees and too hot to go out until the sun set.  The roses are thick clustered and lip stick pink, the columbines are extraordinary in their variety, the irises are perfect and perfumed with sherbet, the peonies are exploding from their tightly encircling buds, the hedgehog is out feeding in the dusk and I even heard a cuckoo calling unmistakably from the meadows.

This evening is perfect and would have been my mother’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday Mum, all these flowers are for you.

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Taking it slow.

The media tells us to exercise, meditate, bake, clean, detox, declutter, buy stuff, make a noise, tree bathe, twerk, be our best selves, post it, like it, share it.
This Roman snail says its raining, I shall move inaudibly from under this stone.
That’s it.

Goodbye to the Ice Saints.

Yesterday was cold Sofia, the last of the ice saints day. May 15th is the fest day of Saint Sofia and traditionally the last really cold night of spring.
In this part of the world mid May is often surprizingly cold and no one who understands anything would put out a tender plant before that date for fear that frost would kill it. We have had hot February and March, warm April, but the first half of May has been true to the folk calendar: cold and wet!
The grass and the potatoes are loving this weather and the spring flowers have lasted spectacularly well, but I am watching the moon which seems full tonight. Full moon always heralds a change in the weather. The ice saints have had their season, Pixie the cat watched them go and now the warm weather can begin!

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Telling Time.

I have half an hour before the chicken needs carving, in which to contemplate time.

I understand that there is clock time and internal time. The clocks stuck on church towers and round our wrists were made imperative by the invention of trains and the necessity of time being the same everywhere and tracks being cleared and so we slice up our life into internationally recognisable fragments, so that now the planes can fly and the computers can whir. The time in our heads works on a more complex level, where the present is composed of memory and potential future and moves to the rhythm of the thinker.

And then there is seasonal time: never the same, always the same, always the future.
The year progresses at its own pace, different in each village, different in each shadow that cools the flower or delays the germinating seed. You need to know a place well to compare the seasons. This year the celandines were late, but the ravens bred early. This year swifts were late, but the cuckoos(who had been absent for two years ) returned and called over and over from the hedgerow.

This morning we watched the young ravens,already fledged and learning to fly, tumbling over the cool, tall pilling clouds. White throats are singing their territories, storks are walking on improbably long legs through the buttercups, spearing slugs to feed their nestlings. The house martins have just arrived.

Ahh ! I can smell that the chicken is cooked!

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Spring snow.

Slip slushing snow whomping and whispering from the green leaves.
The stems are plump with life, turgid with sap. This white weight of winter is a foolish incumbrance to be shrugged away.
Hours of heavy snow bowed down the saplings and the tall nettles, it filled in the open tulips and blurred the gooseberries ripening on the prickle fringed bushes.
But enough is enough.
Spring slept under the heavy cold wet blanket for a night , a long night, of fatuous fretting about peonies and potatoes.
In the morning, spring time slowly stretched her arms, straightened the birch sapling bowed down to the wet ground and flung the unseasonable nonesense of snow off out into a surprised May morning!

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Plant Blindness

This fascinating article from the BBC explores how important plants are and how most people don’t even see them.

In my experience children and young people are fascinated by plants if you take to the time and effort to talk to them and to show them what is all around them. From quirky names to folk stories, edibility, seed dispersal and smell, plants are endlessly fascinating as we all know; but we do have a duty to spend a little time with youngsters ( and the not so young!) to physically show them what amazing richness there is beyond the little world of our smart phones.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190425-plant-blindness-what-we-lose-with-nature-deficit-disorder